When I was a child my mother used to take me to Bredon’s Bookshop in Brighton. It had a small art department that for me was heaven. The lowest shelves held clay, plaster of Paris, Plasticine and modelling tools. I wanted them all but even more alluring than this were the upper ones displaying row upon row of soft pastels and paints and a spectacular array of coloured pencils, Derwent if I remember rightly, which of course I do. It seemed to me that every imaginable shade of every possible colour was there. I longed for them. Mum always bought me something – a small packet of crayons or pencils but that didn’t do it for me.
What I really wanted – and I might say – I haven’t changed at all – was the entire display. I wanted the biggest boxed set available. Not long ago I found out that my friend Mary had been given just this when she was a child and I felt engulfed by a curious retrospective envy. Ridiculous really – I have long since bought many complete ranges of pencils, pastels, gouache and inks and since this hunger is one that will never truly be satisfied a few weeks back I bought the largest boxed set of Rembrandt oil paints that they make.
I hadn’t really intended to use these oils for my Filthy Beast work – gouache is still this illustrator’s medium of choice but on this occasion I could not resist and the result is The Old Boar above. I have just seen that Sennelier do a box of their entire water colour range – 98 tubes in all – Mmm… Oh dear.
I had a bit of a shock early this morning when I caught sight of a large pink and beardy thing moving around in the garden. It took me a moment or two to register that what I was looking at was in fact Jerry, aka The Badger, wearing my old rose dressing gown and an ancient, battered, flattened-rimmed stetson. He was refilling the feeders. I rushed for my camera but with that unerring instinct all wildlife seems to possess, he instantly looked up and the moment was gone. Such a shame, I would have loved to share the spectacle.
However, one wonderful sight was soon replaced by another when a sudden eruption of raucous squawking announced the arrival of a band of hopeful youngsters all looking to pair up. The jays are back – no more skulking around keeping a low profile or hiding away in the woods for them. It’s March and they’re out and proud, raising crests and bossing each other about, spreading their gorgeous wings and flashing their super white underpants at each other in enthusiastic group courtship displays. They’re dynamic birds and they have such presence, I love, love, love them. They are lovely subjects to illustrate and what’s more, rather unexpectedly, they lend themselves very readily to caricature. So how could I resist? Welcome back you beautiful birds.
Cats top the list of animals that I have found most enjoyable to portray. They really suit the anthropomorphic treatment. They dress up most satisfactorily and can strike a lovely pose too, which helps. Take Master Wiffy for instance, or his real life companion Butmunch, whose owners specifically requested him to be portrayed as Quentin Crisp, they suit their attire and roles.
Not all animals are quite so adaptable though. I would not attempt to paint a hedgehog as Quentin Crisp, it just wouldn’t work. Judging by the heavy breathing and grunts they make when shuffling along beneath the bushes I’d say they are more dirty raincoat types and the girls, though there is little immediately visible to distinguish them from their old boys, remind me of more of bag ladies than cosy Mrs Tiggywinkles.
I have almost finished another painting for the Rogues Gallery.
It is of Master Scuttlebuck, he is a decidedly disreputable coney and definitely one of the notorious Cock Lorel’s band of villains and scoundrels. Cock Lorel himself enjoyed mythical status in Tudor England and he too will be a worthy subject for the Filthy Beast treatment in the near future, I’m sure.
In the meantime, in an excuse to paint their wonderful green plumage of course, I have been at work on some drawings of drunken parakeets. The parks of London are quite full of them I hear, along with those dodgy squirrels who will mug you as soon as look at you. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. They are brazen in their naughtiness.
In fact, we had a few squirrels overwintering in the attic of the house in Cambridge. I could swear they were running a crack den up there, coming and going at all hours of day or night, slamming doors, fighting and hanging off the gutters, yelling obscenities at us. It was really quite disgraceful. I am no prude, in fact I consider myself rather tolerant really, but squirrels can get extreme in their riotous behaviour. It may be a little too much to live with but it makes them very desirable subjects to draw.